SAN FRANCISCO — The economic wave from San Francisco’s current technology boom has finally reached the city’s Dogpatch section.
It’s too early to say whether it will be enough to scrub clean and rejuvenate this former industrial area, marked for decades by derelict warehouses, abandoned train tracks and potholes big enough to swallow a Tesla.
Yet if so-called techies can make it to Dogpatch, there will be few places they can’t.
The tech industry arrived in force here this week via 5,000 engineers, executives, investors and tech sales and support workers who came for a conference and start-up competition hosted by the online news site TechCrunch.
In the parking lot outside, as well as the surrounding streets, a parade of Uber and Lyft cars ferried riders with faces and fingers buried in their smartphones.
As the Muni bus driver who dropped me two blocks from the event on Monday said, after traffic didn’t budge for 10 minutes: “What’s going on?”
Inside an ancient port warehouse whose rusty roof irons towered high above, software coders competed in a hack-a-thon, industry leaders spoke from the stage and more than 100 start-ups competed for visibility, funding and coverage.
In the registration area of the TechCrunch Disrupt SF show that served as an entrance to Pier 70, excited attendees waited in long lines now typical of tech confabs everywhere.
On Monday, one of the most successful Internet investors of the past decade was asked whether he thought Uber was worth the reported $50 billion valuation of its last private funding round.
The rich valuation “is absolutely justified,” said Yuri Milner, who made billions through his Russia-based investment vehicle, DST (formerly Digital Sky Technologies).
From the same stage on Monday, software engineers spoke of why Bitcoin faces a serious near-term crisis and why a lens flare inside a virtual reality headset can give someone a migraine at digital speed.
On Tuesday, Facebook’s ad chief hinted at the company’s plans to make money from its Messenger App, while Softbank’s president told the crowd why he’s not hot on U.S. companies now.
Also on Tuesday, GoPro CEO Nick Woodman impressed the crowd with his confidence and drive.
“You have to stay relentless…you have to have healthy enthusiasm for all your great ideas and a healthy paranoia,” said Woodman, who ended his stage time by exhorting the entrepreneurs in the crowd to “Be relentless!”
GoPro GPRO shares, beaten down of late, rose after the performance and closed higher Tuesday, which means that things being said in Dogpatch are now moving stocks on Wall Street.
This former swamp southeast of downtown, essentially used as San Francisco’s cesspool in the late-19th Century, may never be the same.
(Since I moved to this city’s Potrero Hill neighborhood five years ago, to keep a closer eye on the start-up scene, Dogpatch has sat on the flats to the east, its silent, empty buildings more evocative of Buffalo or Detroit than Fisherman’s Wharf.)
Yet last summer, the yacht-racing team founded by billionaire software icon Larry Ellison defended America’s Cup on San Francisco Bay from a warehouse marked prominently with the “Oracle” logo. That logo, which I can see on the horizon from my upstairs window, looked out of place until this week.
But no more.
If techies could invade the Mission District, Lower Potrero Hill and the Tenderloin, why not Dogpatch?
Why not outer space?
Back inside Pier 70 on Monday, Milner was explaining why he is pouring money into a project attempting to send communications to other parts of the Milky Way Galaxy — and beyond.
“Every second star similar to our sun has an earth-like planet within the habitable zone,” Milner said of the Breakthrough Initiatives, announced this summer along with famed physicist Stephen Hawking.
“It’s cheap to communicate between galaxies…over billions of millions of miles,” Milner said (“cheap” being a relative term, of course.)
The organization is having a contest, called Breakthrough Message, that will pay a $1 million first prize to the person who comes up with the message that will be beamed into space.
I believe a solid entry might be: “Greetings from Dogpatch. We’re headed your way next.”
Follow USA TODAY tech columnist John Shinal on Twitter: @johnshinal.
Read or Share this story: http://usat.ly/1Fg95wM